When Jon Stewart Cried on TV

We are approaching the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and our country will be marking the date with a variety of special observances. We will all have occasion to remember the horror of that day and what life was like in the United States in the immediate aftermath.

One of the things I remember is how hardly anyone had an appetite for the usual amusements. After the attacks, our entertainment culture appeared in full view for what it really was—a vacuous and banal distraction from the most important things of life. Nobody wanted to watch Leno’s patter on “The Tonight Show” or the blathering sitcoms. There was a collective turning away from entertainment. People wanted and needed to hear something weighty in that moment, so they turned elsewhere. On September 16, churches across the country overflowed.

The shock and grief rested heavily on everyone. And many of the normal late night comedians simply stopped recording new shows. For some of them, it was weeks before they returned to regular programming, and nobody missed them. It was a peculiar moment in American life. It was an ethos I had not experience before 9-11, and one I haven’t experienced since.

I was reminded of this singular moment again today when Elizabeth Tenety linked to a video of Jon Stewart’s first show after the September 11 attacks. Stewart gives a lengthy opening monologue which is interrupted at numerous points by his attempts to choke back tears. He swears-off making jokes about President Bush for the foreseeable future. And he makes an apology for the fact that his show must go on.

Given everything that has happened in our national life since the attacks, this moment seems less like ten years ago and more like a hundred years ago. Nevertheless, there is a clear lesson here that we would all do well to remember. We are prone to amusing ourselves to death. Our attention is too often focused on the ephemeral and the fleeting, and not on the weighty and the eternal. Our usual diversions can smother sustained focus on God, His word, eternity, Heaven and Hell.

Is the human condition really so desperate that it takes a 9-11 to break the stranglehold that our entertainment culture has on us? I think that it is. The human condition really is that bad, but the gospel really is much better. Even in the morass of our daily distractions, it still has the power to break through (Romans 1:16-17). And this gives me hope, even as the rest of the world is back to business as usual.


Psalm 101:2-3 “I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart. I will set no worthless thing before my eyes.”

Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”


  • donsands

    Excellent thought. I shall have to share this. Thanks brother.
    Have a full of joy Lord’s day and weekend in the presence of Jesus our Lord and savior.

  • Paula

    Tonight at the Rockies game, rookie pitcher Juan Nicasio was hit in the head with the ball and carried off the field on a stretcher. At this time there are no reports on his condition other than he’s resting comfortably at the hospital. I’m reading some of the Twitter feed and there’s a lot of “This puts everything in perspective” and “This reminds us that baseball is just a game” talk. The juxtaposition of of a very scary (possibly tragic) even in the midst of amusement makes people stop and think. Unfortunately, in our rapid-fire society, most people are on to the next thing without really doing any heavy-duty soul searching or making any changes.

  • Elowel

    For Mr. Stewart, Democracy is light, and that light has already won the battle. It takes a bigger man to pick up all the broken pieces.

    But looking at the bigger picture, we’ve already won the War. God has already won for us. I pray that the nations will see this in my lifetime.

    When you take several steps back from this dramatic story of 9/11 and the decade since then, of death, destruction, darkness, courage, reconstruction, light, you will see the bigger Metanarrative of God coming to save the world. We are characters within the story that have been given a sneak-peek of the last scene by the Director, and that gives us hope, because the Knight in Shining Armor will come to slay the Dragon and we’re going to reign in this King’s domain forever.

    He has already won the War. I pray that gives all of us strength to live everyday as if it’s our last day, because God is light. Chaos and evil will not last. Jesus has already won the War, and we have already been vindicated. Just wait and see.

    I honestly don’t believe things will get easier. I have a strong intuition America will fall down harder than we could ever imagine with the debt crisis, which threatens to jump out of the TV screen and consume our lives in a tremendous decrease in the standard of living, hyperinflation, riots, anarchy–it has already begun in many places around the world, even the United States. If the Lord lets me live, I hope to be an agent in restoring His Creation and showing people that there is Hope in a Tower that can never be broken down. Matter can’t be destroyed, anyway. It can only be changed. He’s going to make us into something beautiful.

    It’s hard now. It’ll only get harder. Wait until we’ve laughed with joy in the glorious presence of God, and this lifetime will seem incomparably short. The Programming will go back to “normal” as it always has, and God will wipe away our tears and make us laugh again, as if we never left the Garden of Eden, almost as if this was just a bad dream.

    Until then, the Dragon is alive, and we have our roles to play. Get to it.

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